Lawmakers push relief for West Coast seafood industry

A bipartisan effort is underway to provide relief to local
fishermen, seafood processors, and those facing food insecurity across the

Last month, lawmakers including Senators Jeff Merkley and
Ron Wyden sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requesting the
purchase of West Coast seafood products for the USDA’s Section 32 program.

Section 32 began in 1935, purchasing surplus food products
from farms and fisheries to go to food assistance programs and the National
School Lunch Program.

“The fishing families themselves, they provide
essential jobs for several hundred miles along the Oregon coast. This would be
a life boat for them. In addition to that life boat, we need to make sure that
we’ve got a life line for the hungry people. And that’s why we’re requesting
help from the Department of Agriculture,” said Wyden.

Lacy Ogan, spokesperson for Pacific Seafood, says West Coast
Seafood Processors Association, a coalition of processors, wrote a letter of
their own to the Agriculture Marketing Service (which falls under the USDA)
requesting Section 32 assistance.

“Being part of this USDA Section 32, along with the
entire West Coast seafood industry, means that more people are going to have
access to those healthy proteins. It’s so important for heart health, for your
brain health, especially for students in the school lunch program and how
they’re functioning in school,” said Ogan.

Wyden calls the potential inclusion in the program a way to
supplement lost revenue.

“Ukraine was a big source of our exports. Now that has
fallen way off,” said Wyden.

“We do continue to have this surplus from the war in
Ukraine, as well as lingering issues as well from COVID. With the war in
Ukraine where we lost that market for our whiting filets, now we have the
opportunity instead of completely losing that to bring that back locally. Congress
has been so helpful, especially Senators Merkley and Wyden, in coming through
and then showing their support,” said Ogan.

The Oregon Trawl Commission is also pursuing the USDA
purchases of their seafood.

Yelena Nowak with the Commission says purchasing began in
2021 due to COVID impacts after restaurant markets collapsed.

Pacific Seafood would provide whiting, rockfish, and cold
water shrimp through the program.